Odds-on favourite

Australians are passionate travellers, so it should be no surprise that a strong gum leaf contingent fell on America’s Sin City for last month’s EFI Connect conference. Aussie accents piped up on the neon landscape that is ‘The Strip’ in Las Vegas. In the footsteps of the Rat Pack, Australians joined some 850 end users, 250 EFI personnel and a small group of journalists and analysts (of which ProPrint was the exclusive Australian media outlet) to converge on the upmarket Wynn resort for the annual affair.

There were Aussie twangs from EFI Asia Pacific development manager David Paterson and ex-pat Nick Benkovich, Kodak’s director of product management for print workflow. The appearance of Kodak speaks volumes about EFI’s strong partnering culture. More than a dozen companies, including Ricoh, Canon and Konica Minolta, ran exhibition booths at
a ‘solutions lab’ and collaborated in a live end-to-end ‘digital workflow experience’.

Kodak’s Benkovich, now based in Vancouver, moved to North America to work for Creo when the Canadian firm bought imposition software developer ScenicSoft, and he stayed on after Creo moved under the Kodak umbrella in 2005. (Interestingly, Sydney’s Rohan Holt, the pioneer of Australian-developed imposition software Metrix, also worked for ScenicSoft in the pre-Creo days, after it bought his Holt Software company. Metrix was one of the EFI partner companies exhibiting its products).

Former Sydneysider Benkovich was at Connect to demonstrate the version six Prinergy plug-in for EFI’s brand-new Fiery Dashboard cloud-based information service. JDF data flows from Fiery to Prinergy and back, mapping run lengths and other data for all types of projects, including blended offset-digital job bags.

Australian EFI users were also on hand. ProPrint spoke with IPMG guys Frank O’Brien, from Offset Alpine and Chris Sledge, from Hannanprint. Another familiar face was Mark Campbell, a Kiwi who now runs Melbourne-based change management consultancy Agentink. He’s well versed in the type of workflow automation on show in Vegas.

Workflow software has been a prime focus for California-based EFI, which has been a demon on the acquisition trail, thanks to eight double-digit quarters. In recent years, EFI has expanded its software portfolio well beyond Fiery to become a leader in MIS/ERP (not to mention wide-format inkjet).

Chief executive Guy Gecht appears the restless visionary who doesn’t dwell on the GFC or rest on his laurels. Addressing a capacity audience, he used his keynote to describe a shifting window of opportunity, comparing print’s transformation with the rise and fall of once safe bets, from LPs to Walkmans and Nokia’s once-dominant share of the mobile market. Today’s window is open to iPods, smartphones and tablets. Similarly, he argued, print is transforming, and its window is a browser-based industry, free of its traditional access points.

“Just as other industries, such as music and mobile phones, saw a transformation to a higher value based on personalisation of content to consumer needs, our industry is experiencing similar changes. You don’t want to get caught selling the old Walkman to your customers.”

Gecht apparently revels in his customers, and invited the principals of two key EFI client companies – Jeff Housenbold of innovative photobooks printer Shutterfly and Robert Schlacter
of office supply giant Staples – as his on-stage guests in two ‘fireside chats’.

Software smarts

EFI started in software; systems remain the central pillar. It was left to Marc Olin, general manager of EFI’s advanced professional printing software, to rattle off the company’s extensive portfolio.

Taking a deep breathe… there’s web-to-print courtesy of Digital StoreFront and PrintSmith Site, management information systems such as PrintSmith, Pace, Monarch and Radius, along with recent acquisitions Metrics Sistemas of Brazil, Prism and Alphagraph, file preparation in the shape of Fiery System 10, XF and ColorProof XF (now integrated in Prinergy and Apogee).

The stable doesn’t stop at software, and Olin also outlined the output range, notably Vutek, including the new GS5000, Rastek for display graphics, and Jetrion for labels and packaging.

But back to Fiery Dashboard. EFI’s 24/7 real-time production analysis tool enables production managers to boost productivity of their Fiery-linked digital presses from any internet-connected device, including smartphones and tablets. This was the “news of the day” for the beginning of Connect, paving the way for a major buzz at Drupa. Dashboard will analyse metrics such as press uptime and utilisation, media use and paper jams, and managers can compare data between any Fiery-connected output devices, according to president for Fiery marketing John Henze.

Gecht said Dashboard and the wider software-as-a-service (SaaS) movement enables intelligent decision making around the clock.

Gecht said: “Dashboard will bring to the decision maker the right information at the right time. People spend all that money on a press, but they don’t realise the digital front end (DFE) is actually what utilises it. It’s like the engine in a car.”

Inkjet solutions vice-president Ken Hanulec outlined EFI’s plans to expand its industrial printing acumen, now that Spanish ceramics print specialist Cretaprint is in the EFI fold.

Frank Tueckmantel, EFI’s vice-president of corporate marketing, outlined ventures in management, such as the recently added PrintSmith Vision MIS, and in cloud technology. (EFI is now the largest MIS/ERP supplier in Australasia.)

Significantly, he emphasised his company’s move into wide-format inkjet in markets unassailable by electronic channels, such as packaging and labels with Pace and Radius products for the flexibles market, POS and floor graphics. This underscored Gecht’s mantra about investing in print markets that can’t be superseded by electronic options: “No one will be walking on iPads.”

While Connect provided plenty of substance behind the glitz and glamour, EFI kept its close to its chest in display graphics. There remains anticipation around the new Vutek HS100 wide-format press, with LED-UV curing as well as the Orion OS, which had been “top secret” until recently. Gecht has already said the Orion will spell “goodbye” to superwide-format screen printing. To paraphrase Vegas rat packer Dean Martin: “Ain’t that a kick in the head for screen printing”. Not all may agree, but in a city of chance, EFI head’s wager on inkjet felt like good odds.




One on one

EFI chief executive Guy Gecht took time out at Connect to speak exclusively about Orion and Dashboard to ProPrint.

Your new Orion system has created some buzz. What is it?

The printer component is the Vutek HS100, a completely new platform, setting a new standard in speed and quality, and the Orion is the OS we’ve developed for this printer. We’re applying everything we’ve worked on in recent years in terms of LED and UV technologies. It’s a new type of ink, heads and architecture. 

You say 75% of the display market is still with screen. Can you project the figure for five years from now?

It will be the other way around, 75% with digital. For screen, the train left the station years ago. We don’t see any new innovation in screen. By Drupa 2016, digital will be the majority.

But can the HS100 with Orion trump screen’s abilities in terms of ink laydown, and ability to match Pantones and metallics?

The HS100 will be in a league by itself as far as matching colour. At Drupa, people will be able to see it printing live. Image quality will be critical, and you will not need to give up any quality as you go up in speed.

But it’s said that in display graphics, high-resolution, which is a strength of inkjet, isn’t critical, given the general viewing distance.

I understand the theory, but in practice, the marketers who buy this kind of print will get behind quality. When we introduced the GS series, we got exactly this kind of argument: who needs the quality? But once someone buys this type of output, they will never go back to a lower quality.

In Australia, we’re beginning to see all-digital businesses catering for the signage industry. Are you targeting that trend?

We see our customers consuming more, buying a second, even a fifth machine. We know they can use the speed, they’re telling us that already.

On the subject of Dashboard, is this effectively placing JDF in the cloud?

With JDF, there’s a lot of misconceptions. It’s just the language between systems to transfer information. Dashboard will bring to the decision maker the right information at the right time. People spend all that money on a press, but they don’t realise the digital front end is actually what utilises it – it’s like the engine in a car.

Are we reaching a point where functions like file preflighting will be performed by the printer’s client?

Digital StoreFront allows that, and a new version is coming to market in weeks. What it means is that the customer will be able to specify as much as they can, which means firstly, they will get what they want, there will be no misunderstandings, and secondly, they’ll get excited by the technology. 

More broadly, what do you think of software as a service moving into a B2B environment?

We’re obviously biased, as we’re the largest provider of cloud software in the publishing market, but I think that’s the future. I love to help customers by hosting the software so they don’t need to buy servers and worry about virus protection and back-up. But many customers still prefer to have the software on their own servers, so we offer both options.

Aren’t there still security issues, or perceptions of those issues, that affect customers’ attitudes to software as a service?

We have clients all the way up to Staples and FedEx and security is a very high priority with them. When they work with our products, they’re very comfortable. We don’t invent our own security – we use advanced off-the-shelf products, and so far, we haven’t had a single incident of a security breach.

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